A country of countries
Do you like French wine? I have to confess that perhaps half of my cellar contains wine from France. I buy and enjoy wine from everywhere, but France has just so much to offer.
It is a bit of an over-simplification to talk of French wine. There are so many styles and grape varieties that such a label is impossible to define. The international stature of great wines from France has placed many regions of the country on par with the national labels of other countries.
We tend to speak of, for example, Australian wine or South African wine without much regional or stylistic differentiation. Even Spain and Italy, major and historic producers, tend to be considered as a whole, rather than by region.
The regions of France, however, have achieved their own near-national recognition. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are just as likely to have their own sections in a liquor store as Chile and Argentina. Beaujolais, Chablis, Alsace and Chateauneuf-du-Pape would be almost as recognizable.
In each case, we are looking at quite different wines.
Bordeaux reds would be blends of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, while Burgundian reds would be 100 per cent pinot noir. The four grand cru grapes of Alsace are riesling, pinot gris, gewurztraminer and muscat, of which none are allowed in Chateauneuf-du-Pape whites.
In Burgundy, the white wines are chardonnay, which has almost always been oak-aged, while in nearby Chablis the same grape almost never sees oak. In Champagne, they turn the chardonnay into bubbles.
It’s not even possible to think of such regions as producing a single style of wine. Bordeaux may be known for its reds, but also produces wonderful whites, rosés and sweet wines. Most regions share such diversity.
Trying to understand all of these confusing details under the label of French wine is a challenge. To keep things straight, it probably works best to think of the regions of France as wine-producing countries in their own right.
As a little extra emphasis on this point, let’s add the other regions of France into this discussion. The Loire Valley introduces the chenin blanc variety, Jura offers the savagnin, Corsica the nielluccio, and the South West features fer, tannat, gros manseng and petit manseng.
Throughout the country you will find dry reds, rosés, whites, sparkling wines, naturally or fortified sweet wines, and wines made in the style of sherry.
France simply covers just about every style and variety for the wine lover. Quality ranges from the bottom, unfortunately, all the way to the most sought after wines in the world. There are great value wines available from even the trendiest regions. What’s not to like?
Clos la Coutale 2010 (NLC $17.85) is from the Cahors appellation of the South West France region, which means it is a red wine made from the malbec variety (in this case, with a dollop of merlot as well). This wine has obvious flavours of black fruit, although not so heavily fruity as an Argentinian malbec might be. The grainy tannins contribute to a full body and a robust drink. Score 14.5/Good.
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.